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8 steps for filing a claim with your homeowners insurance company

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Homeowners insurance covers your property and belongings from damage, which is often referred to as insurance perils. A peril is an event that may damage your home or belongings, like theft, fire, or a storm.

If something happens to your home, you can have it repaired or rebuilt under dwelling coverage. Personal property coverage includes your furnishings and belongings. Liability coverage protects you if someone is injured on your property and sues for damages.

If you need to make a claim with your homeowners insurance, it’s important to file in a timely manner and document damage. Failure to timely notify your homeowners insurance could result in a denial of your claim.

How to file a claim with your homeowners insurance company

There are three components to homeowners insurance: dwelling coverage, personal property coverage, and personal liability coverage. Also, if you are forced out of your home, you may be eligible for loss of use or additional living expenses. When filing your claim, it will fall under one of these four categories.

If you experience loss or damage due to an insurance peril, Steve Wilson, senior underwriting manager at Hippo Insurance recommends staying in touch with your homeowners insurance company to let them know what’s going on at your home and take the following steps when submitting insurance claims:

  1. Contact the insurance carrier to file a claim in a timely manner. 
  2. If your home is damaged, your carrier may provide a list of contractors and offer advice on do-it-yourself tips to prevent further damage. 
  3. If you think your home is uninhabitable, contact your carrier before leaving your home. Don’t assume loss of use or additional living expenses will apply until you speak with your carrier.
  4. If theft or loss occurred, you should file a police report as some carriers will require this. If you have separate jewelry insurance and your jewelry is stolen or lost, you will also need to contact that carrier.
  5. Take pictures of the damage before disposal and cleanup. 
  6. Beware of price-gouging contractors and door-to-door scammers. Ask contractors for their license and insurance credentials to avoid fraud. If you’re a renter, your landlord is responsible for the building and structure.
  7. Prevent further damage to your property. 
  8. Don’t do something you’re not comfortable with/that doesn’t look safe. Homeowners insurance has a condition to prevent further loss. Focus on a temporary fix instead of something long-term so your insurance company can properly access a permanent fix by a professional. 

Damage must be due to an insurance peril. Damage from improper maintenance and normal wear and tear are not covered. Consider a home warranty  for regular equipment or appliance repairs.

Also keep in mind that there are limits to your coverage. Dwelling coverage is the amount to rebuild your home if damaged. Basic homeowners personal liability coverage typically has a $100,000 limit. Likewise, basic personal property coverage has a $100,000 limit. 

Unless you’ve increased your limits or purchased an umbrella policy — additional liability coverage that’s available as an add-on rider to your homeowners insurance — your claims will be subject to those limits, minus your deductible.

You can call the claims number on your policy or make a claim online on your carrier’s website. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many carriers have digital apps to file claims where you can upload pictures of damage for faster processing.

Homeowners in disaster-prone areas may have additional requirements

If you live in a disaster-prone area — such as a part of the country where hurricanes or tornadoes are common — you may need additional riders or separate policies for natural disasters

Earthquakes, floods, government seizures, mudslides, ordinance updates, sewer backups, and sinkholes are all perils that won’t be covered by homeowners insurance, according to Hippo Insurance. Those will require add-on coverage using a rider policy. Flood insurance is a separate policy.

If you have a separate policy for flood insurance and your home has flood damage, you will need to file a separate claim with that carrier. Do not assume that your homeowners insurance carrier is in contact with your flood insurance provider.

Actual cash value vs. replacement cost

Homeowners insurance policies typically use “replacement cost” when paying out for covered damage. Replacement cost is the cost to replace the item with a new or used product. 

Actual cash value (ACV) takes into consideration depreciation of the item. For example, if a five-year-old leather sofa is damaged by fire, the actual cash value considers the age of the sofa. Actual cash value is usually lower than the replacement cost value. Flood insurance typically uses actual cash value.

For specialty jewelry and fine art, you will be covered for the appraised value minus any deductible assuming you purchased a rider. 

Homeowners insurance premiums may increase after filing a claim

Filing a claim may increase your insurance premium based on the number of claims previously filed or the amount of damage claimed. This is especially true if you have had a dog bite or liability claim that resulted in a lawsuit. Some carriers will even drop customers if their pet bites or injures someone.

Talk to your homeowners insurance provider to find out how filing a claim may impact future premiums.

Will homeowners insurance cover relocation?

Loss of use” coverage, also known as “additional living expenses” or ALE, is included in most homeowners and renters insurance policies and provides reimbursement for temporary housing when a peril causes damage to your property or belongings that makes your home or rental unit inhabitable. 

For “loss of use” and “additional living expenses,” much depends on your insurance carrier and it varies by provider. Some carriers will reimburse you for temporary housing. Others may have a list of housing alternatives.

Ashlee Tilford, managing editor for Insurance.com, told Insider that most homeowners have a misconception of what constitutes “inhabitable.” Don’t assume that your insurance carrier will pay additional living expenses, because the definition of inhabitable varies by company. 

If you’re considering leaving your home due to damage, contact your homeowners or renters insurance provider first and take detailed pictures of the damage. Make sure to lock up and secure the premises as well. 

If your homeowners insurance company hasn’t provided the level of service you expected, maybe it’s time to select a new provider. Remember, a cheap price doesn’t mean good customer service. Focus on customer satisfaction rankings, like those from J.D. Power

Ronda Lee is an associate editor for insurance at Personal Finance Insider covering life, auto, homeowners, and renters insurance for consumers. She is also a licensed attorney who practiced litigation and insurance defense.

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